Of Couches and Kitten Carnage

Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

A few weeks ago, I had a day like that.  It started, innocently enough, with my clock alarm going off.  Oh yeah, time to get up and prepare to deliver my couch and loveseat to their new owner.  A cup of coffee, toast and some clothing later, and I was sort of ready to go.  Foolish thought, as it turned out. . .

The new owner, her husband, daughter and daughter’s teenaged BFF showed up at my house at the appointed time.  They carried out the couch to my Suburban, and it was loaded without incident.  Next, the loveseat.  Small snag. . .would not also fit in the ‘burb.  “OK, no problem, let’s just lash it to the roof rack! I’ll get some rope and a tarp,” say I.  I emerge from my garage, just a few moments later, with these items, to find that the buyer’s other half and my neighbor from across the street had loosely wrapped the loveseat in a tarp that looked like it would explode as soon as the meter hit sixty.  Inwardly, I sigh.  Outwardly, I say “thanks, guys!  Let’s get this thing up on the rack and we’ll lash it down.”  While the buyer and her family are doing this, Helpful Neighbor Guy (may I also add, Married Neighbor Guy and Guy Whose Kids Babysat My Kids for Years) offers a consoling side hug over my recent bereavement that turns into a full-frontal bear hug with mouth-kiss attempt. (I duck and throw an elbow so it winds up being a peck on the cheek.  Ew.  He’s lucky he didn’t get the Logger Girl Basketball League Stomped Arch-of-Foot treatment.)

I turn my attention back to the impending transportation catastrophe at hand.  The loveseat is on top of the ‘burb, and has been lashed down.  However, the rope is all baggy, so I have to re-do it, while Buyer’s Hubby and Overly Familiar Neighbor watch with their hands in their pockets.  (My thought is that fellow motorists wouldn’t like having a couch, or any other piece of furniture, land on/in front of them.)  OK, that’s done, time to get this show on the road.  I follow my buyers in their car, hoping for the best, fearing the worst.  Of course, I soon hear an ominous “flap flap flappity flap flap thunk” sound on the roof of my vehicle.  I stop to investigate.  My buyers keep sailing along with nary a care in the world, ditching me.  Yep, the tarp is trying to disintegrate already, and an errant corner is flopping about like a sad dog wearing booties.  I re-secure the load, and continue onward.  I have my buyers’ address, I just hope they’re there when I arrive.

I arrive at the destination, and back into their driveway.  I get out, look up, and see that the tarp “covering” the loveseat has indeed shredded into a zillion ribbons.  I stand next to my truck, and become aware of a sobbing, screaming chorus of female voices.  I freeze, and attempt to arrange my face into an expression that is both neutral and reassuring.  For this is the keening sound that accompanies death (usually).  You become familiar with that sound if you’ve ever spent much time in an ICU, or had someone you love pass.

The lady who bought my couches appears, and tells me, between sobs  “My cat – was – pregnant – and we – left her – in – the  - house – with – the dogs – and she- had – her – kittens – while – we – were – gone – and – the – dogs – ate -them.” I choke out an “oh, I’m so sorry!” and wait for the next disaster.  Her husband says, “I’ll try to calm everyone down, but we should move these couches.”  I offer to help, but they say they’ve got it.  So I follow them as they carry the loveseat to the front of their house.  That has no door.  Yep, looks like the loveseat is going to go through the front window.  Great.  Suddenly, the husband freezes.  He says “oh, I’d better go pick up that stuff.”  He evaporates, so I step in to help hold the loveseat, which is balanced in the window.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see the husband scurrying about the living room, with a plastic grocery sack, picking up – oh my gosh – what appears to be, ah, kitten parts.  (OK, deep breath, you can get through this, you can.  Just don’t freak out.  Or laugh.  Laughing would be totally wrong in this situation.)

Cleanup completed, the loveseat is jerked through the window and into the room.  The process is repeated with the couch.  I wish my buyers the best, shakily get into the ‘burb, and flee the scene of the disaster.

Immediately, I call my good friend, Queen of the Undead.  I relate my tale of woe, and ask whether I should just go back to bed and pull the covers over my head, start drinking heavily, or a combination of the two.  QOTU recommends both.  Fortunately, I’m saved from a really bad hangover by an invitation to dinner from another friend, CZ.  I gladly accept because she says she’s making the spicy sausage/kale/brown rice/peanut stir fry that is seriously the best thing ever (if I get the recipe, I will share it!).

At dinner, I share my tale.  CZ’s teenage kids ask “hey, is that like Build-A-Bear?  You know, Build-A-Kitten?”  My friend glares at them, but they continue, not fazed in the least.  “Is my kitten’s heart supposed to be on the outside of his body?  Hey – my kitten doesn’t have a head!” They are horrible children, which is why I love them.  The littlest brings out her Build-A-Bear from Disneyland to make sure I understand the reference.  Yeah, I get it!

Anyway, it was a really bad day for me, but even worse for the kittens.  There are several possible morals to this story:

1.  Don’t wrap an old loveseat in an old tarp.

2.  Spay and neuter your pets.

3.  Don’t leave a pregnant animal unattended with other carnivorous animals because weird stuff can happen.

4.  Creepy things happen to you when you’re a widow.  Head on a swivel!

Of Grief and Power Tools

Today marks a month since my husband’s been gone. So, I decided to engage in a little retail therapy to make myself feel better – one trip to Costco later, I have tamed an annoying cupboard with these sliding racks.

Aaaaaaaagh!  Run Away!
Aaaaaaaagh! Run Away!

To achieve this, I had to
1. Get over my fear of using a power drill.
2. Figure out whereinhell DH hid all the dang drill bits (finally found them after searching four toolboxes in, you guessed it, the fourth one) *and*
3. Actually install the things!

I’m pretty happy with the results and I think he would have been, too. So, Honey, here’s to the 25 great years we had, and thanks for leaving me all your gear. I finally understand the fascination with power tools!

Much better!
Much better!

 

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

One of the things that sucks the most about being a new widow is the loss of my favorite dining companion.  My love was my best cheerleader/supporter regarding my efforts in the kitchen (well, except for that fruited pork spaetzle disaster about 24 years ago. . .) and I often was the happy recipient of a new cookbook with a sappily romantic message inscribed inside the cover.

To combat my grief and loneliness, I’ve been accepting a few invitations to dine with friends, and having a few people over here and there.  The food of grieving should be, in my opinion, extra special, because by dining together, we celebrate human connections, and a shared love of good, home-cooked food.

Last night I whipped up the following rich stew. . .I suppose one could make it in a slow cooker for convenience, but I just don’t think it would be the same.  I like to bake this one in my vintage Descoware enameled cast-iron dutch oven.  This savory dish serves 5 easily.  It can be plated over brown or white rice, or eaten alone in a bowl.  While I don’t recommend a sprightly discussion of septic shock while eating it, unless you already work in health care or are a nursing student, I think a good time was had by all, and having company for dinner eased my loneliness, at least temporarily.

So, without further ado – here is the recipe for JC’s Boeuf Bourguignon.  Yummy, yummy, yummy. . .thank you to food blogger Tara Noland for this savory treat!

Full Code

So, my heart, my love, my life-long mate, my best beloved in the wide, wide world (he so loved Kipling) died today.  Right in the living room.  No rescue breaths or compressions were going to bring him back.  He lived long enough to smile brightly at son-of-disorderlyCNA, who had come home to visit from college for the weekend, to flick him some crap like usual, and then he had the big one. The widow-maker.

This was not unexpected.  He’d bravely fought cancer for over seven years. . .was the king of the infusion floor, the oncologist’s most interesting patient, the guy who’d outlived every one of his diagnostic cohort.  But he’d been short of breath this week.  After chemo on Thursday, he had a chest x-ray. . .an ugly, ugly thing.  I’ve seen some nasty images of lungs, peeking over the shoulders of the intensivists and nurses during my CNA days in the ICU.  But this one took the cake.  Imagine the thick, evil webs of funnel spiders, and that’s what my husband’s lungs looked like, all the way up to the middles.  The oncologist returned my call the next day, in response to my question whether it was partly pneumonia?  Nope, he said, it’s the cancer.  And I felt all the fight drain out of me, right then.  I didn’t say anything to my husband.  I think he knew, anyway.

I almost lost, him, I thought, last night.  He was sitting in his recliner, and the way his mouth hung open, his pallor, and the protruding tongue didn’t look right.  He was unresponsive to a sternal rub, to peripheral pain, to me shouting and shaking him by the shoulders.  And then, he came back. . .like he still had something to accomplish.  Looked at me like I was a total jackass and said “why are you shouting at me?  Are you PMS-ing?”  Coolest, toughest sonuvabitch I’ve ever met.  Should we take you to the hospital, I asked.  No, he said, I’m fine.  Please get me some ice cream.  So I did. . .he really, really loved ice cream.

So today, he had cream of wheat and raspberry preserves.  Watched TV.  Had coffee.  Laughed at the antics of our cat and dog chasing each other up and down the hall.  It was really sunny outside. . .a beautiful day.  At 1430, I told him our son was about 20 minutes away.  He flipped channels on the TV.  I was bathing our ridiculous little dog in the sink when the boy came in with a breezy “hello!” He and Papa began to talk.  Life was good.  I was out of the room when the boy shouted, “Mom, there’s something wrong with Dad!”  1525.

I would say a full-on grand mal siezure and hypoxia certainly qualified as bad.  The boy dialed 9-1-1.  I felt for a carotid pulse. . .there it was, I thought.  I gave two rescue breaths – they bubbled back out at me.  The boy said “we need to do compressions now.”  I started them, yelled for the boy to bring the breadboard from the kitchen.  We lifted the man, slid the board under, and I continued compressions.  I went five rounds of 30:2 and the medics arrived.  1533.

They took over compressions, and I told them – he wants everything, full code. The shirt was cut, the pads placed, the IO started in the right tibia, the epi pushed.  Backboard placed and strapped, lifted, gurney scissored up, out the door.  1538.  Ambulance leaves our house.  I look numbly at my son.  Who’s driving, I ask?  He says he will.  We leave, go to the hospital.  Walk through that front door for the zillionth time.  I go like a robot to the security window, tell them I’ve parked in the ER lot because my husband is in the ER, so please don’t email my manager that I’m in violation.  We go to the triage window.  We are ushered back to one of the trauma bays.  We go in.  Full code in progress. . .a compression line of 3 ED techs.  I know them all.  The nurses, the doc, the house super, the charge nurse.  All of us, faces stony.  Pulse check. . .asystole.  The doc talks to me, says that nothing’s coming back.  I know, I say.  He wanted everything done, has everything been done, I ask.  Yes.  All right, I say, that’s it, then.  Time of death 1611. He is gone.

I think, looking back, that he might have insisted on being a full code because he knew where it would lead – either to the ICU or the ED, and either way, there would be people there to take care of us, to hug us and help us through that first awful hour of shock, to ease us into the unending hours of grief to come.  And they did.  And I am grateful.

The Undeading

Simply the best CPR public service announcement ever. Here’s a link to the behind the scenes goodness. Sorry, Ken Jeong, but this one is my favorite (after the British version with Vinnie Jones ).

Learn CPR today, and maybe you can save a life and/or someone’s brain so you can eat it later.

Cinnamon Rolls Out of Control

Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon Rolls

This butterless brioche dough concept is getting out of hand.  However, I believe it has made the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever tasted, and being something of a cinnamon roll fiend, I really think I speak from authority on this topic.

The rolls pictured above were made using the butterless brioche dough I stumbled onto accidentally.  Follow the steps listed, but instead of creating a braided loaf with half the dough, make the cinnamon rolls instead as follows:

1. Preheat oven to 375 (350
if convection). Spray a cake layer pan (9″ diameter) with cooking spray. On a floured surface, roll out 1/2 of a batch of Butterless Brioche Dough into a rectangle roughly the size of a cookie sheet, and approximately 1/2″ thick. (I like to do this on a silicone cookie sheet liner to make my life a little easier – helps with the rolling step.)

2. Spread rectangle with 2 T melted butter, then sprinkle with (already blended) 1/4 cup sugar+2 tsp cinnamon.

3. Starting at the narrow end of your rectangle, roll dough tightly, pinching to seal.

4. Cut dough roll crosswise into 8 equal pieces. Place pieces, cut side up, in the cake layer pan, one in the center, and the remaining 7 along the periphery.  If you would like your end pieces to look the same as your center pieces, place them cut side up in the pan.

5. Allow to rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place, for about 30-40 minutes.

6. Bake on parchment-paper lined pan on low rack of oven for 15 minutes, until golden-brown.  Tent rolls with foil, bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.  Remove from oven, invert onto heatproof plate.  Allow to rest for a minute, then remove pan.  Place another plate on top of rolls, invert, and remove original plate.  Your rolls will be right-side up and ready for frosting, if desired. You can stop here, and have these slightly sweet, cinnamon-infused rolls:

Cinnamon Rolls - Prior to Frosting
Cinnamon Rolls – Prior to Frosting

7. If you desire frosting, blend 1 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar with 1 T milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, until smooth (add more milk if the consistency is too thick – think somewhere between stiff frosting and a thick glaze).  Spread glaze atop rolls – no need to be too precise – but do keep it toward the center of the rolls or you will find quite a bit of it on the plate, and not on the rolls.

Enjoy!

Butterless Brioche Braid (OK, whatever, perhaps it’s a Challah!)

Butterless brioche braid
Butterless brioche braid

Hello again, it’s your adventuring baking buddy, with the conclusion to the “Look Before You Brioche” story.

It turned out wonderfully!  I decided to make braided loaves as suggested on the King Arthur Flour blog, where I also picked up some more amazing brioche dough ideas, such as using it to make cinnamon rolls!  (I am actually prohibited from saying amazeballs because I am over 40.)

Here is the recipe (with all apologies to Betty Crocker):

Butterless Brioche Bread (OK, Maybe it’s a Challah, whatever!)

1 package quick-acting dry yeast (no patience for regular), 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees Farenheit), 2 T sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 5 eggs, 1 egg white (save the yolk for later!), 3.5 cups AP flour, 1 egg yolk (see, I told you so!), 1 T water

Dissolve yeast in warm water in working bowl of food processor, or mixer bowl.  Add sugar, salt, 5 whole eggs, 1 egg white and 2 cups of the flour.  Beat on low speed, scraping bowl constantly if using a conventional mixer, for 30 seconds, then on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, for 10 minutes.  Add remaining flour and blend on low until dough is smooth.

Scrape dough from side of bowl.  If using a food processor, place dough into oiled (can spray with cooking spray) bowl.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, set in warm place and let rise until double (about an hour).

Stir down dough by beating about 25 strokes (by hand). Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-8 hours (8 hours was recommended, but I didn’t wait that long).  Remove middle shelf of oven, leaving only the top and very bottom shelf. Preheat oven to 375 (350 if convection).

Spray two bread loaf pans with cooking spray. Divide dough in half.  With lightly floured hands, on floured surface (I like to use a silicone cookie sheet liner as a backup), divide one half of the dough into three equal pieces.  Roll each of the three into a rope about 10″ long.  Pinch the ends of the three ropes together, braid, then pinch together the ends of the rope at the terminal end of the braid.  Place braid in one of the loaf pans, tucking under pinched ends.  Repeat the braiding step with the other half of the dough, place into remaining loaf pan. Again, cover with plastic wrap, set in warm place, and allow to rise for about 2-3 hours until puffy.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and water with a fork.  Using a pastry brush, gently apply this mixture to the top of each braided loaf. Go lightly, as you want to avoid having the egg mixture run down the loaf and accumulate at the edge of the pan. Then, if desired, sprinkle the top of the loaf with plain sugar.  I used some Demerara sugar I “found” in a cupboard. I suppose a festive holiday effect could also be achieved by using colored sugar.  Step back, and sigh with anticipation as you see this sight:

Brioche braids - before baking
Brioche braids – before baking

I followed the advice of the KAF blogger and placed the pans on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place the loaf pans (on parchment-paper lined cookie sheet) on the bottom shelf of preheated oven.  Use another cookie sheet (unlined) on the top shelf as a “sunshade” for your loaves as they bake.

Bake for 15 minutes until loaf tops are golden-brown, then “tent” the loaves with pieces of foil (see the pictures on the KAF blog), and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the center of the loaf reads at 205 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (I actually pulled mine out at 200, and they read at the recommended temperature after exiting the oven for a few minutes). Immediately remove loaves from pans, cool on wire rack (I would put your lined cookie pan under the rack if you used sugar on the loaf tops, to avoid having a mess.)

Enjoy the fully cooled bread plain, with butter, as French Toast, or what-have-you.

Husband and son demolished one loaf while I was at work; took the other loaf to work and it was devoured.

PS:  I made the traditional white bread I originally set out to make, and it was amazeballs.

Look before you Brioche

This.  This is what happens when I get up, and try to create something in the kitchen prior to caffeine ingestion.  Yep.  Set out to make plain ol’ white bread from my Betty Crocker cookbook, and instead wound up with brioche dough.  (This is what happens when you set something on the book to keep it open while you add ingredients and somehow, after the yeast proofing step, you wind up making the brioche recipe on the right-hand page, not the basic bread recipe on the left-hand page.  Oops.) Perhaps the step calling for five eggs and one egg white should have been a warning.  Nevertheless, I now have a nice big batch of brioche dough, but no brioche pan.

Hence, a plead for help on the internets.  Never despair, I am usually not the only one experiencing any particular baking emergency, so help usually is readily forthcoming.  Along with a quick giggle result showing lovely brioche pans I could purchase from Williams-Sonoma or Amazon, is a helpful thread on finecooking.com that should save me: Brioche Pan Substitute Discussion

Now I need only decide whether to make loaves of bread using the “six balls technique,” or make tiny muffin-pan brioches.  Meh, I think I’ll go with the former.  I only have a half hour to decide, because I only have quick-rising yeast.  The suspense!  The drama!

All this because I was too lazy to drive to the store for bread.  That should teach me!

PS:  I neglected to add the butter specified by the recipe.  When you make mistakes, go big or go home!

Is it enough?

Ren & Stimpy get Superstitious

In studying my ACLS text for my upcoming class (dreading. . .dreading. . .anything remotely approaching a skills lab setting makes me shake with apprehension), I found myself thinking of how my perspective has changed since entering the health care field.

I used to just be-bop into the store with nary a thought of what I’d do if someone collapsed in front of me.  Sure, I’d taken the occasional first-aid course, but still, I hadn’t really internalized it.  Now, I walk into a large store or building, and find myself scanning the walls to locate the AED, avoiding anyone who looks like they might not feel well (I used to only avoid the actively sneezing and coughing, but now my immune system just shrugs and says “whatever” when confronted by someone else’s germies, for the most part), and just trying to get in and out with the least chance of a medical incident possible.

For you see, my friends, at work I am becoming what is gently known as a “magnet.”  If a patient will try to become unstable, have a cardiac event, de-sat into the 80′s, whatever, it will probably occur on my watch.  Doesn’t really matter that I’m new. . .it has only taken three weeks on my own for the patients to get the memo that they can feel free to have some sort of incident while I’m caring for them.  Already, I’m greeted on my floats with “hey, good to see you, I’m sure you won’t have a Rapid Response this time!”  I have tried everything to get off this streak, including a float to Psych (where I was nowhere near anyone even remotely medically unstable). Nothing has worked. It’s only a matter of time before this tendency follows me into my off-hours.

I’m hoping that by outing this possibility on my blog, I can somehow prevent it from occurring.  This is somewhat akin to the superstition that causes nurses to pull the code cart outside the room of a patient whose condition makes them nervous.  We’ll see!